South American Journey: The Trail to Machu Picchu
Amy Billing | On 13, Sep 2013
I was so excited to hike the Inca Trail, until we reached high altitudes and then it’s safe to say I was sufficiently terrified.
Itâ€™s day 9 nine in Peru, and weâ€™re en route to Lake Titicaca. Itâ€™s our first real stop in high altitudes, and itâ€™s all going well, until weâ€™re forced to walk up an incline for 500 meters to our lunch spotâ€¦ I honestly thought I was going to die. As we begin to walk I immediately start to feel sick, I could hardly form a sentence and I could feel my brain pressing against my skull, and that was just the first 100 meters. We start to create convenient excuses to stop walking, â€œoh wow, look at that view, Iâ€™m just going to take a picture real quickâ€, and my camera wasnâ€™t even on.
It didnâ€™t take long for me to realize that in 3 days we were suppose to be departing on what we initially thought would be the adventure of a life time, the Inca Trail, but would seemingly be the death of me.
The night before we depart on our 44km hike, weâ€™re sitting in this little cafÃ© having our last beer for 3 days, and watching a Mexican soap opera on mute, and there is this indescribable feeling in the air. Itâ€™s a combination of nerves, excitement and anticipation â€“ not so indescribable after all. As the sun sets behind Ollantaytambo, Iâ€™m nervous and excited to embark on what is sure to be another challenge but I canâ€™t help but think will I survive?
Weâ€™re up at 4am the next morning to avoid delays, and we travel by bus to kilometer 82, the official start point of the Inca Trail. We snap a quick photo before we begin following in the footsteps of an ancient civilization to their sacred city, Machu Picchu. Our guide Pedro marks our foreheads like a herd of sheep heading into the slaughter and we begin walking though the spectacular countryside. We pass locals on donkeys, kids walking to school (they do that everyday and weâ€™re using walking sticks, slightly humiliating) and Incan ruins before reaching our campsite for the night. Weâ€™re greeted by the sound of clapping and cheering from our porters as we walk into the campsite and weâ€™re all feeling ecstatic that we have survived the first day.
Our camping experience on the Inca Trail would fall into the glamping (glamorous camping) category. We had our tents set up for us before we arrived everyday, all our meals cooked for us and we didnâ€™t even have to wash a dish or take down our tents or roll up our sleeping bags. Every morning at 5am we got our own personalized wake up call, â€œgood morning SeÃ±oritas would you like some cocoa tea?â€ and our onsite chef baked our group not one, but two cakes without the use of an oven â€“ clearly Inca magic or something.
On day 2 of the trail I stumble out of my tent half asleep and feeling very nervous about the day ahead. We were repeatable told by our guide that â€œday 2 is incredibly difficult, and often people donâ€™t make it and are forced to turn back.â€
This is because on the second day of the Inca Trail you have to cross WarmiwaÃ±usqa (dead woman) pass, which is located high in the Andean mountains, and the only way to WarmiwaÃ±usqa is up. After our pancake breakfast (impressive right?) we set off for the toughest day of hiking on the Trail.
As we begin to hike up the mountain weâ€™re surrounded by the most beautiful and unique secrecy Iâ€™ve seen, and we walk through almost every climate Peru has to offer. The higher we climb the air becomes thinner and cooler and weâ€™re surrounded by thick cloud. I begin to understand why the Inca people believed this route to be sacred; the trail is peaceful and calm and isolated. By this point, we have been walking completely uphill for almost 3 hours and we finally start to see the top of the pass. The closer to the top we get, the harder it becomes to breathe, and weâ€™re only able to walk four to five steps before having to stop and catch our breath again. Finally after hours of hiking weâ€™re standing at the top of the WarmiwaÃ±usqa pass and Iâ€™ve never felt more relieved as I stare back at the mountain I had just hiked up.
On our final day on the trail, day 4, weâ€™re awake by 4am ready to hike to The Sun Gate. The Sun Gate, often referred to as the Cloud Gate, is where on a clear day you catch your first glimpse of Machu Picchu. After a 4km hike we reach the Sun Gate, the final pit stop on the trail and there are no clouds in sight. As the sun rises over the mountains, Machu Picchu, a city once covered in gold is complete illuminated. And for potentially the first time in my life, seeing that sundrenched city, I was speechless.
Our time on the Inca Trail was hands down the best experience South America has to offer.
We physically and mentally pushed ourselves; we saw some of the most spectacular Andean scenery, and we shared our experience with new friends from all over the world.
So what did the Inca Trail teach me?
Firstly, it taught me that Mexican soap operas are better if you narrate them yourself.
And lastly it taught me that sometimes fun is disguised as a 44km hike. The reward of this epic trail is not Machu Picchu, but the journey itself.